Rugby-Pollard starts for much-changed Springboks against Tonga

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby Championship - South Africa v New Zealand - Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa - August 13, 2022 South Africa's Handre Pollard in action REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File Photo

(Reuters) -Handre Pollard will start at flyhalf in one of 12 changes for South Africa in their must-win Rugby World Cup Pool B clash against Tonga in Marseille on Sunday, as coach Jacques Nienaber picked no specialist hooker and Duane Vermeulen at flanker.

Pollard has played 30 minutes of rugby for Leicester Tigers since May due to injury, but the Springboks are eager to give him a run with his accuracy off the kicking tee potentially crucial in the knockout rounds, should South Africa get there.

He replaces Manie Libbok, who moves to the bench having been excellent with ball in hand during the tournament, but wasteful with kicks at goal.

Number eight Jasper Wiese, captain Siya Kolisi and lock Eben Etzebeth were the only players included who started the 13-8 loss to Ireland last weekend, as Nienaber also reverted to a 5-3 split between forwards and backs on the bench, a rarity for his side.

"This is a strong and physical team, which is exactly what we need against a side like Tonga that plays with passion and force," said Nienaber.

"Each one of us understands the importance of this match with an eye on qualifying for the quarter-final, so accurate execution, physicality and doing our basics right will be vital to get the desired result."

Regular loose-forward Deon Fourie, who played his first game at hooker in five years against Romania in the pool stages, starts in the front row and his replacement will be another flanker in Marco van Staden, who is also a back-up in the number two jersey.

Scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse and centre Jesse Kriel are the other backline options on the bench with Libbok.

The starting back three contains wings Makazole Mapimpi and Grant Williams, and fullback Willie le Roux, while Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie are the midfield pairing.

Cobus Reinach brings his experience to scrumhalf to play alongside Pollard.

Wiese stays at number eight, with Vermeulen getting a rare start as a flanker to bring that physicality and break-down pressure Nienaber spoke of along with Kolisi.

Old school friends Etzebeth and Marvin Orie are the lock pairing, with props Vincent Koch and Ox Nche either side of Fourie.

South Africa team: 15 – Willie le Roux, 14 – Grant Williams, 13 – Canan Moodie, 12 – Andre Esterhuizen, 11 – Makazole Mapimpi, 10 – Handre Pollard, 9 – Cobus Reinach, 8 – Jasper Wiese, 7 – Duane Vermeulen, 6 – Siya Kolisi (capt.), 5 – Marvin Orie, 4 – Eben Etzebeth, 3 – Vincent Koch, 2 – Deon Fourie, 1 – Ox Nche

Replacements: 16 – Marco van Staden, 17 – Steven Kitshoff, 18 – Trevor Nyakane, 19 – Franco Mostert, 20 – Kwagga Smith, 21 – Jaden Hendrikse, 22 – Jesse Kriel, 23 – Manie Libbok.

(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond)

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